Of Lepidoptera (Part 1)- The Butterfly, Body image, and Rewilding the Body



Butterfly- from The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck by Kim Krans

One summer, we walked out into a garden filled with the white flutter of Belenois Aurota, the Pioneer White Butterfly. It was a powerful experience- thousands of butterfly wings beating in the air,  my heart and my stomach were filled with as many butterflies as our garden, it was dizzying- all that flurry of white. I have not seen anything like that since. When all the butterflies had fluttered away and days later, a solitary one lay on the grass, spent and dead, I kept it in a heart shaped box, my greatest muse for many years.


Despite my relationship with Butterfly and the other Lepidoptera, I struggled with this part of the journey. Every day felt like a choking step into a deeper state of depression. I was uncomfortable under Butterfly’s wings, so beautiful and blue- she has been an ally for many years, but on this Dark Forest Journey, something shifted, and she was no longer my muse, no longer a symbol of hope, transformation, and beauty; she became something far darker, something of a twisted nostalgia, and it felt like I was inside of a killing jar- the poisons slowly smothering me in a cloud of thick, deep depression.

I was reminded of my childhood trauma’s- the bullying, the taunting, the eternity of empty loneliness spent becoming more and more detached from my body and my surroundings- where I would lose myself in books, and trees, and dark corners. I would hide in bathrooms swallowing my sobs after being humiliated again and again.

I ate away my pain- cookies, and cheese pies, and cake, and chips, and bread, and sugar, and chocolate, and condensed milk, and sweets…and then I began getting fat and the taunts only got worse, even by the adults who should know better, but as long as my stomach was stuffed with sugary treats I could lie and say “Sticks and stones” as my grandfather taught me. Of course this poetic resistance is a lie, words cut on a soul level, they change the way you think, they change the way you feel about yourself, they can ignite a deep hatred in the self for everything “You” if they are said enough times.

“Here I rot” began the first line of the first poem I ever wrote at the age of 12. Reading my poetry from that time makes me incredibly sad for the child that I was. This was more than just normal teenage angst. I had been to psychologists because my depression, suicidal ideation and violent outbursts were far beyond the line of normal teenage hormonal imbalance. Teachers, friends and many others simply did not understand what depression was and it was largely mistreated.


From Bottom- Hellebore Flower, White Pioneer, African Monarch and Unidentified white moth


It was at this point in my life, that Butterfly became an ally. Many think it is strange that I claim Butterfly as an ally, after-all I am socially uncomfortable, tragically depressive, and rather unattractive by societal standards, with my little, short, fat body and my gothic tendencies. The ugliness that others threw in my direction, stuck to me, and even long after their taunts stopped, the voices in my head carried on, baiting me at every turn. Even in my adult life I haven’t been immune to the derisive comments, and nastiness regarding my size or my looks. I have never been the “pretty” friend. But sometimes I think that prettiness comes at a cost.

“The Tribes are reverent, involved. But some visitors look at each other  and murmur “This is it? This is the Butterfly Maiden?” They are puzzled, some even disillusioned. They no longer seem to remember that the spirit world is a place where wolves are women, bears are husbands, and that old women of lavish dimensions are butterflies”- Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run With the Wolves

I spent longer than what I was supposed to trying to adjust to Butterfly, and the uncomfortable weight she was putting me under during this Dark Forest Journey- two weeks. And in that time all I knew was that looking into a mirror, seeing any reflection of myself, looking closely at the way my legs thundered and wobbled, and the way my arms ballooned out made me feel like giving up. I look like dough, not like a butterfly. But then as I shuffle out the next card for the new week, I remember that in order for the Butterfly to become what it is- the caterpillar digests itself, and becomes a somewhat amorphous, oozing soup, leaving behind imaginal discs or cells which are reused for the transformation into this winged being.

In my life I have undergone many cycles of fat and thin, healthy and unhealthy, but it is only now that I am beginning to see the patterns of the cycle, of how I digest myself in depressive episodes, and how I reuse old patterns, and old lessons and old thoughts to recreate myself into another idealised image that simply cannot hold, because it came from a place of self-loathing rather than self-love.

Change cannot come from the unhealed, polluted, toxic wasteland inside your head and heart, because the structure will decay and crumble from the inside. The imaginal discs that you form yourself from cannot be from cut-outs of magazines waste-dumped with patriarchy and internalized misogyny, they cannot be from the taunts of people who only value surface and veneer and who are in denial of anything different. If this transformation is to be healthy, full and deep, it must come from the deepest wells of the wild self, knowing what it is that you truly want, and knowing what it is that you wish to become.

The truest, deepest and wildest parts of yourself, which have been beaten, suppressed, gagged, enslaved and violated by the sickness of society, are aching to be loved, touched, nurtured and nourished from the inside out. You cannot capture another woman’s mystery, another person’s wildness, you cannot be someone else, and you should not beat yourself into someone else’s shape-

“When women are relegated to moods, mannerisms, and contours that conform to a single ideal of beauty and behavior, they are captured in both body and soul, and are no longer free”- Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women who Run With The Wolves.

But you can nurture your own wildness, allow your own wilderness to grow and your own moons to shine, you can dig deeply into the soil that forms your body, the roots that form your veins, and the rivers that flow in your soul, and bring up the wildness and deepness from within.


We were walking from the shop, into the underground parking lot, and I spotted bright orange  wings on the ground. I bent down, picking up the African Monarch gently, and put it in my spectacle case. I could not stop looking at the wings, slightly bent, only a tiny bit damaged, and tiny white speckles across its black body. This was just before the beginning of the end of one part of my life. It was the Scorpion’s moon, and the next cycle was about to be begin. It has been a few months since I found the African Monarch, and it was only a matter of time before Butterfly would urge me into motion, into wildness and into passionate expression.

“The body is like an earth. It is a land unto itself. It is vulnerable to overbuilding, being carved into parcels, cut off, overmined, and shorn of its power as any landscape. The wilder woman will not be easily swayed by redevelopment schemes. For her, the questions  are not how to form but how to feel.”- Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run With the Wolves

I cannot live, detached from my own bodily expressions. These thighs and these calves give me motion, these arms hold flesh and bring comfort, this body is a living expression of my land. The living body too needs to be rewilded, filled with flowers, fluttering pollinators, and healing lakes.



The Common Jay and The Cruiser-  a gift from The Hedgehog




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